Trying to determine an effective way to manage for livestock, forage and timber on the same tract of land?
Utilizing a form of agroforestry known as silvopasture may be an attractive option for landowners seeking additional ways to diversify their risk while utilizing their property for multiple land management objectives.
Silvopasture allows landowners to enjoy the financial benefits of timber management, combined with the periodic revenue generated from livestock and forage production. The goal of silvopastoral systems is to optimize, rather than maximize, production of all three elements.
In addition to the financial returns offered to property owners from crops, the ecological community also benefits from silvopasture through the establishment of native pines, grasses and wildlife habitat.
Depending on your commercial pine preference, landowners can use loblolly (Pinus taeda), slash (Pinus elliottii) or longleaf (Pinus palustris) in the silvopasture system.
If you are implementing this system on existing pastureland, plant single or double rows of pines with at least a 4-foot by 8-foot spacing and a 40-foot wide forage corridor.
For establishment in existing forest stands, thin the forest to 25 to 60 percent canopy cover to ensure the correct amount of sunlight reaches the understory for forage production.
Shade tolerant grasses and legumes are most successful in the silvopasture system. For enhanced wildlife habitat, choose native grasses such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactaloides), and native legumes such as white prairie clover (Petalostemon candidum) and showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense).
Place fencing and watering locations to control animal movement, maximize grazing options and minimize soil compaction.
Livestock choice depends on management objectives. But remember that herd animals will create defined travel patterns that could be damaging to natural forest systems.
Because livestock will also browse and trample young trees, wait until trees are at least 10 feet tall before introducing them into the silvopasture system.
Landowners also have the option of harvesting hay prior to the introduction of livestock to promote forage production and provide income.
After livestock introduction, maximize forage potential by controlling livestock impact through stocking levels and rotational grazing. Avoid heavy grazing in any area, and allow ample time for forage recovery.
Trees and livestock can be mutually beneficial production systems when managed properly. Trees provide livestock and forage with much-needed shade during the summer months, thereby reducing heat stress, making livestock more productive and forage more palatable.
Livestock also help reduce the risk of catastrophic forest fires by consuming dry matter on the forest floor. Another benefit of grazing in this system is that livestock consume shade-tolerant weeds that would require costly removal in forest plantations. Also, trees naturally shade out other pesky weeds that thrive in open pastures.
Both trees and livestock require intensive management in the silvopasture system. Frequent thinning, pruning and pasture rotation is necessary in order to reap the most benefits financially.
Livestock stocking and grazing levels must be monitored closely to minimize damage to trees and watersheds and reduce soil compaction. The system is also most desirable for high value and quality timber production during long rotations.
The multi-product nature of the silvopasture system provides landowners and producers some security against fluctuating markets and unstable weather conditions.
Additionally, this system provides landowners with a versatile management option. It can be implemented on small acreages, on large tracts of land, as a stand-alone operation, or as part of a variety of land uses that include improved pastures, profitable timber stands and wildlife habitat restoration.
When managed correctly, the silvopasture system can increase the productivity of your timber component, while providing short-term cash flow from livestock and forage.
Additionally, the system offers greater biological and economic diversity, as well as environmental benefits for forest health and future landowners.